Cats are 5-1 at season's midpoint but not satisfied. UK staff, players say they're not close to reaching their potential.
Jeff Drummond/Cats Illustrated
LEXINGTON, Ky. - By every traditional measuring stick, Kentucky is off to one of best starts in program history.
The Wildcats are 5-1 at season's midpoint. They're averaging almost 28 points per game. They're giving up only 21 and are defending the run as well as any UK team in the last 40 years.
Somehow, though, it's hard to tell from the chatter across Big Blue Nation.
Fans are still stinging from a 28-27 loss to Florida in Week 4, and all five of the wins to date have been something of a struggle deep into the fourth quarter regardless of the opponent's perceived strength. The last three games have all been in question until the final snap of the night.
From their perspective, the Cats are torn. They don't quite understand the consternation, but they also acknowledge there is significant room for improvement.
"This is the only time during the season where you can sit back and look at the whole season," UK head coach Mark Stoops said after Tuesday's practice with an open date on the schedule. "So we did go back and did a self-evaluation... to self-scout ourselves, see what we're doing good, what we're doing bad, and continue to improve in the areas that we can. And in the areas where we're not doing well, how can we fix it?"
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said the focus this week and next will be converting more red-zone opportunities into touchdowns.
"We're 90 percent right now scoring but 55 percent touchdown," he said. "We need to be at 65 or 67. That should have been done easily already. We have really, really messed up some things, and we've got to get that fixed. If we can do that - the question I heard you ask coach (Stoops) - then it wouldn't be coming down to the last play."
Kentucky had three drives into the red zone in the fourth quarter last week against Missouri and scored on each one but settled for field goals on two of them.
"We could have put it away with a touchdown. We have to," Gran said.
Added UK quarterback Stephen Johnson: "We'd like to execute our plays to where it doesn't come down to that, but we also like being in games like that were we have to fight."
When noted the Cats still scored 40 points, Gran said, "That's our job. We left a lot on the table... There's more points out there."
The offensive "self-scout" wasn't entirely critical, though. Gran joked about one of the big positives: the Cats are eighth in the country in turnover margin (+8) after being "130th out of 129 last year."
* Stoops said junior weakside linebacker Jordan Jones, the leading tackler last season and the emotional leader of the UK defense, returned to practice Tuesday after missing the last three games with a shoulder injury. He did not go through any contact drills but is expected to play on Oct. 21 at Mississippi State if there are no setbacks.
* Three other players are currently on the injury list. Cornerback Chris Westry, middle linebacker Courtney Love and defensive tackle Naquez Pringle did not practice on Tuesday. They are all expected to be back by the end of the week or the beginning of next week, Stoops said.
* The open date comes at a good time for offensive lineman Nick Haynes, who has been battling diabetes. Stoops said the training staff hopes to get some weight back on him the next two weeks. His condition causes his weight to dip into the 260s at times after once playing at more than 300 pounds at UK.
* Stoops said backup quarterback Luke Wright, who suffered a seizure on the sideline last week during the Missouri game, has been improving and getting good news back from his medical tests. "Everything's been positive. He's feeling better."